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Iraq Fuel Shortage Worsened by Attacks on Oil Facilities - 2003-12-21

Iraq's Oil Ministry says insurgents have attacked and damaged facilities both north and south of Baghdad, making the country's already severe fuel shortage even worse.

An oil ministry spokesman said on Sunday that rebels hit fuel tanks south of the capital with rockets and set off a bomb that damaged a pipeline in the Mashada region to the north.

Fires and leakage caused by the attacks led to the loss of a reported 10 million liters of gasoline.

Attacks on fuel lines, refineries and storage depots have frustrated efforts by American and Iraqi officials to rebuild Iraq's oil industry. The country's oil infrastructure was already in a state of disrepair before U.S.-led forces drove Saddam Hussein from power in April.

The shortages have led to long lines at gas stations and forced officials last week to introduce fuel rationing. This, in a country believed to have the world's second-largest oil reserves, behind only Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said on Sunday that it detained 111 people in the town of Samarra Saturday night as part of continuing raids aimed at flushing out insurgents.

The military says 15 of those detained are suspected of directing attacks on American soldiers.

On Saturday, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar made a surprise visit to Iraq to visit Spanish forces stationed in the country. Mr. Aznar visited troops in the southern town of Diwaniya and told them they are working for freedom, democracy and respect for international law.

Mr. Aznar is one of the strongest supporters of the U.S.-led operation in Iraq, despite widespread opposition among the Spanish public. Spain reaffirmed its commitment to keep 1,300 soldiers in Iraq after suffering its first major combat casualties in November, when seven intelligence agents were killed.